Agriculture, Hunger, and Globalization

Global concern over hunger is on the rise, and agriculture is getting a lot of attention in a lot of ways. Most recently, Mauritius wants to lease farmland in Mozambique, multinationals are supporting small farmers, and the countries best at fighting hunger support either privatization or increased government control over commodity prices.

Reuters reported today that Mauritius is considering the lease of 23,500 hectares in Mozambique. That’s not the huge amount it sounds like – it’s 90 square miles, or 58,000 acres. It’s not a substantial proportion of Mozambique’s arable land, and there are privately-owned ranches in Texas that size. That being said, it’s an interesting plan for several reasons.

For one thing, Mauritius does have plenty of agricultural land of its own, and a climate that’s good for growing farming. However, 90% of Mauritius’s farmland is dedicated to growing sugar cane for export, accounting for 25% of the nation’s export earnings. For another, Mauritius is just the latest country interested in using Mozambique to grow their food. With 88% of possible arable land not yet cultivated, Mozambique has gained the interest of many foreign investors, even though it has not yet achieved food security itself.  Mozambique has to import two-thirds of its rice, among other foods. I also haven’t heard any discussion of the environmental consequences of turning savannah into farmland.

The Financial times has an interesting article about the intersection of global agribusiness and smallholder farms. Major food manufacturers are looking to buy directly from small farms rather than the intermediaries they used to employ. They are motivated by a need to protect the quality of their supply chains in the major of major food scandals, and secure their food supplies in the face of price instability. It’s an interesting reversal of the outsourcing trend.

Finally, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization has released a report highlighting the countries in that are best are fighting hunger. The FAO states that the countries have four things in common: “…the creation of the right environment promoting economic growth and personal wellbeing; investment in the rural poor and outreach to the most vulnerable; ensuring achievements are maintained and safeguarded against threats; planning for a sustainable future.”

What struck me, though, was how different the countries’ approaches were. Some countries, like Turkey, focused on export-oriented agriculture, boosting GDP to fight hunger. Others, such as Indonesia boosted the productivity of small rural farms. It’s a stark reminder that there is no single solution to combating hunger in the developing world.